Target Emotional Mind — A secret tool to Influence People, Lesson From Robert Iger, Disney

When Robert Iger became CEO of The Walt Disney organization in 2005, the company was in a downward spiral, losing money rapidly. He had to find a way to quickly turnaround the company.

To turnaround the company, Robert figured out that he has to focus on transforming the animation division as it played a disproportionate influence on the company’s revenue and market share. The animation was the fuel that powered other businesses -consumer products, toys, television, theme parks, merchandise, and other related products. If animation goes, then the company goes.

Robert worked out a possible solution. However, the challenge was that he had to convince his board members that a problem exists in the animation division & there’s an urgent need to make drastic changes. His convincing had to be so good that the board members should be eager to act immediately on solving the problem. He had to make them realize the magnitude of the problem.

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The profound knowledge of the problem would help the board members in understanding the necessity of the solution. It would also assist them in judging the idea, later.

How would you convince people about the impact of the problem so that they would be itching to take action? What would most of the people do in this scenario?

No Facts & Figures — Several people would focus on pointing to the numbers — sales figures, revenues, competitor data, or other information. The truth — Messages communicated through numbers seldom stick with people.

With numbers, there’s no emotional connection — No stickiness — It’s just an abstract concept.

So, what should we do? By talking about the numbers, we are trying to make people understand the problem. Rather than that, we should make them feel the magnitude of the problem.

Don’t focus on explaining the problem, concentrate on making the people feel the problem.

Only, when they feel the problem, they would have the motivation to involve themselves in solving the issue. Feeling targets emotional mind.

So, how to make people feel the problem? — We have to target their emotional mind.


The conventional wisdom in psychology states that our brain isn’t of one mind. It has two independent systems —

  • Emotional mind — that is instinctive and feels pain & pleasure
  • The Rational Mind — whose function is to analyze and deliberate on things.

The Decision-Making Mind — The highlight of having two independent systems is that most of the decisions are taken by our emotional mind and not the rational mind.

Whenever we present problems in numbers or facts, we are talking to the listener’s rational mind that plays the least role in decision making. For convincing people, our content should be talking to the listener’s emotional brain.

The emotional mind is the one that gets things done. It provides the motivation and energy to the person to execute the project.

Influence Emotions — John Kotter and Dan Cohen in The Heart Of Change says that most successful managers spoke to people’s feelings than talking about strategy, structure, culture, or systems for convincing people. They advise us to find ways to help others see the problems or solutions in ways that influence emotions, not just thought.

Kotter and Cohen also add that targeting the emotional mind is essential in cases where the future is fuzzy(The Walt Disney Studio’s future was very hazy at that time).

So, first target emotional mind and then, the rational mind.

How to target the emotional mind? — Present the evidence in such a way that would make the person feel something — It should hit at the emotional level. It could be a visual display — or, It could be a story — or any other sensory input. All sensory organs have direct shortcuts to our emotional mind. Let’s exploit them. Let people see, hear, taste, touch, or smell, and then experience.

Research in neuroscience and cognitive science shows that people remember and respond most effectively to what they sense and experience.

Great leaders build on the above insight to inspire/influence people. Instead of relying on numbers/data, they make the people experience the need for change.

Dramatize your problem.

What did Robert Iger do?

Robert combined visual display and a story — He showed the opening of the Honk Kong Disneyland video that happened a few weeks back. Almost every board member had attended that ceremony. In that function, there was a display of floats carrying all the famous Disney characters from the movies — Snow White, Pinocchio, Cinderella, Peter Pan, Little Mermaid, Lion King, and other personas. The floats also had characters from Pixar’s films — Toy Story, Monster’s Inc., Finding Nemo, and others.

While the board members were watching the procession of characters in the film, Robert Iger paused the video and asked them, “Do you people notice anything about this parade?”

The members watched again and shook their heads, symbolically saying that nothing stood out to them.

Robert, pointing at the end of the parade, queried, “Do you see any Disney characters from the last ten years?”

There was nothing!

Robert heard the collective “oohs” from the members. He could see that the discovery had shaken them. The members were speechless for a few seconds. The visual story touched their feeling.

Robert continued, “The last few movies weren’t good. It meant characters weren’t popular or memorable. It had significant ramifications for our other businesses and our brand.”

And, then, Robert tapped another emotion — The Emotion Of Pride.

Robert looked at the board members and added, “Disney was built successfully on creativity, inventive storytelling, and great animation, and very few of our recent films lived up to our storied past.”

He touched the positive emotions associated with the past achievements that could only increase the chances of successful influencing the board members.

The research shows that along with hope, pride is also often described as an emotion that can help trigger and sustain focused and appetitive effort to prepare for upcoming evaluative events. — From Wikipedia.

Now, Robert Iger began to target the rational mind.

As the room was in eerie silence, Robert started to show the facts and figures — How Disney lost billions of dollars in the movie industry. He also explained how Disney’s future merchandising programs and other businesses would collapse.

At the end of the presentation, the board members were shell-shocked. They knew that the company had been struggling, but the reality had never been presented to them this starkly. The board members felt the magnitude of the problem. They became restless and realized the urgent need for transforming the animation division. They began to pester Robert for a solution.

Thus, Robert convinced the board members.

Instead of stating the problem in numbers and facts, Robert targeted their emotional mind and got them emotionally charged & motivated.

Note:: For a few more examples, click the link below —

References: The Ride Of A Lifetime by Robert Allen Iger, Switch by Chip and Dan Heath.

Secular Humanist, Business Growth Consultant, Design Thinker, India. Reach me at or

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